Tretinoin, a chemical cousin of Vitamin A and the active ingredient in the anti-acne cream Retin-A, can dramatically fade liver spots, according to new research reported last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. Tretinoin, sold under the brand name Retin-A by Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., has also been used to treat warts and sun-damaged skin. Sales of the drug skyrocketed in 1988 after a University of Michigan team reported that it helped smooth wrinkles.
In a new study by the same team involving 58 volunteers, half received cream containing tretinoin and the other half received a placebo cream without the ingredient. After 10 months, 83% of the tretinoin recipients saw their face spots lighten, compared with 29% who received the placebo.
Once the cream eliminated the spots, they did not return, even after the patients stopped using the cream, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Elyse S. Rafal. But the treatment had side effects. Many people reported developing a rash and scaling, which disappeared when the amount of cream used was reduced or the treatment was stopped for a few days. Over time, the side effects tended to become less severe, the researchers said.